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Normally, when I pray, it’s a struggle for me just to keep abreast of the meaning of the words. I’m not so proficient in Hebrew, and I’ve had to spend many hours with my English/Hebrew siddur (prayerbook), going back and forth, back and forth, to learn the meaning of what I’m saying as I pray.

I’ve never regretted my labors. The meanings of the prayers strike deep, and I enjoy the language of prayer in my communication with G‑d. Whatever difficulties with language and meaning I encounter are joyfully accepted.

But there are times when I get so caught up with the sound and rhythm of the words, as I form them in my mouth and then hear them with my ears, that they simply come and go, like a flowing stream, taking on a life of their own.

When this happens, I become so enchanted by the texture and form of the words themselves, the tempo and cadence of the sentences, that the very act of davening (praying)—the process itself—becomes its own meaning and fulfillment. I become carried by prayer, rather than being the doer of it.

There is the look of the words. The shapes of the Hebrew letters themselves. The dance of black and white on the page. The delight of having these strange lines (and the figures they form) take on sound. The surprise when, all at once, four or five of these shapes group together to make a word with length, depth and dimension. And then, suddenly, a batch of words will link up to become a phrase, a group of notes in a delightful piece of music. My greatest delight is when a beat or pulse emerges, as the phrases join and reveal a rhythmic poem made from a series of what by now have become meaningless sounds—sounds that, because of their lack of meaning, come from a place in me beyond the place that looks for meaning in words.

My favorite is the emerging cadence. Each time it is the same. I open my siddur and begin reading. At first, the words are strange and my mouth has difficulty forming the sounds. My lips and throat resist the shift from English to Hebrew, and the words flow haltingly and with effort. The lines and forms lie disconnected on the page, struggling to attach to one another to reveal the shape that is theirs. The rhythms are now concealed; I hear none of the beauty that I know will soon emerge.

I have a sense of anticipation and slight frustration struggling for the pleasure that will shortly be mine. Then, slowly, finally, it begins. Attracted like magnets, the lines become drawn to each other so that—sometimes touching, sometimes not—one becomes attached to the other, forming letters, words, and eventually sounds that now flow more easily from my mouth.

Soon the words comfortably emerge, faster than I can control, urged and spurred by the familiarity and habit of days and months and years of repetition. Faster and faster they come, my eyes now barely able to separate one word from the other, as the words come more from memory than from sight.

And all the while, the physical transformation is mirrored by a deeper, inner transformation. My mind quiets, becoming absorbed and enveloped by the flow of the prayers, rising above its limited state, leaving a bit of the world behind.

And though I am not now struggling with the meaning of each word, there are shifting inner feelings that accompany each paragraph: feelings that I know reflect the meaning of the words, though the meaning of the words are not what fill my thoughts.

What fills my thoughts? A million things. But I attach to none of them. They come. They go. But don’t prevail. My awareness remains with the sounds and the rhythms and the sights. And with my feelings.

There are times, but not always, that very deep feelings rise, unexpected. They sometimes overcome me during this flight of prayer. There occurs, usually, an opening of my heart. A fullness in my chest. And then, a deep sense of companionship.

In the best of days, when I have abandoned myself to what is for me the very tactile, sensuous experience of prayer; when I have relinquished all resistance to the flow and rhythm of the sounds; when my eyes and mouth and lips seem to function completely on their own; when the flow of thoughts and feelings rise and fall spontaneously without attachment or resistance—I find that a strange thing occurs.

I stop feeling lonely.

Jay Litvin was born in Chicago in 1944. He moved to Israel in 1993 to serve as medical liaison for Chabad’s Children of Chernobyl program, and took a leading role in airlifting children from the areas contaminated by the Chernobyl nuclear disaster; he also founded and directed Chabad’s Terror Victims program in Israel. Jay passed away in April of 2004 after a valiant four-year battle with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and is survived by his wife, Sharon, and their seven children. He was a frequent contributor to the Jewish website
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Kia Sipp Flowertown, SC June 24, 2016

Just today writing my prayer down inside my journal helps me to learn my prayer. I also, make connections by visualizing the nature of the prayer or poem what have you.

Thanks, Reply

Moshe Gush Etzion, Israel via November 21, 2011

A writer's Ability I am astounded at Jay Litvin's ability to put many of my own thoughts, feelings and experiences of prayer into words. This might be the most expressive portrait of what prayer can be and is in various situations.
A man is never "gone from us" while he is remembered. The very words of Mr. Litvin are life themselves. Hashem continue to help his family in all good things please. Reply

George May 20, 2008

Jay Litvin Such a sad loss...the man was a poet.

Incidentally, it sounds as if his dovening often served him as a gateway to meditation--a state of altered brain waves which can serve as a portal to Gd's Presence--the ultimate companionship.

The ultimate closeness that overcomes all loneliness. Reply

Chani Benjaminson, May 19, 2008

prayers There are three prayers said in the course of the day: morning, afternoon and evening. There are blessings said for different foods and occasions, there are different Psalms said on various occasions as well. All can be found in a prayerbook called a siddur in hebrew. Some selected prayers can be found here, and click here for the Book of Psalms. Reply

Anonymous May 15, 2008

prayers are there certain prayers for certain occasions....where would i look for this info........thanks..... Reply

Ann Arlosoroff Vise Nunes Houston, Texas May 17, 2007

Howard's In a profound sense, of course, Howard is right. Jay's words are still reaching out to us.

But in a personal sense, I grieve that I only "met" his words after the man himself was gone, and have no hope of ever meeting, in this life, this person, born within two years of my birth, with thoughts so similar to mine, yet so much better, who would offer warm down-to-earth human understanding and encouragement.

And his widow and children, though they honor his memory and his achievements, can never again enjoy his ongoing physical presence in their lives, only his symbolic presence and his words and the knowledge of the lives touched by his life and his words. .

His loss is truly a loss at many levels. Reply

Howard Chudler Brea, Ca August 29, 2005

Jay Litvin Just reads Jay's note on prayer. I felt moved to write. I hope this note can make it to his wife and family. My words are really intended for them.

Jay is still reaching out to people. It may comfort Sharon and family to konw that. I came to "know" Jay in a somewhat improbably manner. Through a complex series of events, my family has become friends with Ora Cohen and we have been trying to help them out here and there. In surfing around the Net, I came across a very moving article that Ora wrote which not only told the story of the terror attack on her family, but was really a tribute to Jay.

Since then, I will find something about or by Jay. His being/nefesh touches me, makes me think and returns my faith in the potential goodness of Man.

Anybody connected to Jay might find some comfort in my words. He is still working, he is still doing least for one guy in Brea California, he remains an on-going inspiration. Reply

Chanah P. August 23, 2005

What a great article. Jay Litvin's articles are honest and real. Almost always, when I read them, I feel like he is the voice of the part of me, of each of us, that is honest and real. Thus, it's no cliche to say that he brings out the best of us. Reply

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